Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Not-Food Breakfast, Then a Glimmer of Hope

Last weekend I traveled up to Niagara Falls, Canada for my close college friend's bachelor party. While it was great to catch up with old buddies (and pretend we were back in college - my liver disagrees with this decision, however), it was also a sad, sad look into the middle-America (and by extension, Canada) I haven't seen since graduating. (For now, i'll leave the discussion of how one of the 7 wonders of the natural world has been completely spoiled by tacky, glitzy casinos and hotels for another time)

Upstate New York and the towns near the Canadian border are decent places - rolling hills, green pastures, cornfields, and post-industrial cities struggling to find a new identity, most containing a number of quality universities. These are generally family-oriented places. But like most working-class towns in this country, eating and shopping establishments are dominated by giant, corporate-industrial chains. As a result, it was extremely difficult to find anything "edible," in the local/organic/sustainable/honest sense. Applebees, Bob Evans, Perkins, TGIFridays, and of course KFC, BK, the golden arches, and Taco Bell were all eager to sell a cheap, high energy meal. Garbage. Appropriate in a town monopolized by casinos. Breakfast was at Perkins, and was truly disgusting.

This is just further illustration of the well-known fact that Americans spend about half as much per capita on food than other westernized nations. In a society haunted by consumption and risk, we are more willing to drop a $20 chip on a blackjack table than $20 on breakfast. Ask me how that makes sense! For the first, you have a known disadvantage against the house, whereas on breakfast, you have a known advantage of eating a good meal.

But like I said in the post headline, I have also seen a few glimmers of hope. On Sunday, I returned to NYC and caught the tail end of the farmers market. I got some garlic scapes, local cherries, some late-season sugar snap peas, and some amazing andouille sausage from a farm in Putnam County that raises only grass-fed cows. There was a TV crew interviewing some of the purveyors and vendors, and an unusual buzz. Some guy was saying to the farmer at this particular stand that he "just read the Ominvores Dilemma" and was excited about the local food movement. Once he was gone and I ordered my sausages, I asked if that book has had an effect. His eyes lit up and he said plainly, "It changed everything. It changed our lives."

Now it's time to change yours.

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